New season, same old struggles for Atlanta Falcons

VIDEO: Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan disappointed by Falcons loss to Bucs

There were a few things the Atlanta Falcons harped on during the preseason.

Improving the pass rush, scoring touchdowns in the red zone, converting on third down and winning the turnover battle.

The Atlanta Falcons were only able to successfully execute one of those goals in their 31-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won the turnover battle on a Desmond Trufant interception that set up the Falcons' first touchdown. The Falcons did not give up any turnovers. 

It's a small victory drowned out by several losses.

The Falcons defense allowed Jameis Winston to pass for four touchdowns against them for 281 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per pass.

In four trips to the red zone, the Falcons only scored one touchdown. Matt Ryan found Mohamed Sanu from five yards away after Trufant's pick. But after that, Ryan nor his backs could make much headway inside the 20.

"Third downs and red zone, we've got to be good there offensively, and we weren't," Ryan said. 

Both teams were dreadful on third down, each only converting three times in double digit attempts. The Falcons tried to convert on a third down with less than 2 minutes in the game to at least tie it up, but Ryan's pass was off the mark to Sanu, hitting his hands and falling incomplete.

"I thought it was going to be a good spot, but it ended up incomplete," Ryan said.

A tipped pass on fourth down forced a turnover on downs. Ryan completed 27 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns.

The Buccaneers defense had an advantage against Julio Jones. Former Atlanta head coach Mike Smith is Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, and head coach Dirk Koetter was the Falcons offensive coordinator from 2012-14. Jones played for both guys.

"Those guys, they know me. I was with those guys for three years," Jones said, who finished with four catches for 66 yards. "We're going to continue to get that kind of coverage." 

The Bucs gave Jones, who finished last season with the second-most receiving yards in NFL history, few opportunities to shine. Jones did nab a 25-yard pass from Ryan start a stretch of 11 unanswered points for the Falcons in the second half, but Ryan said it best:

"Too little, too late."

The Falcons largely hurt themselves with penalties. Under Smith, the Falcons were disciplined, committing fewer penalties than most in the NFL. Quinn is pushing for a more aggressive style of play. With that, penalties are inherent, but the Falcons were less disciplined than usual Sunday.

Atlanta had seven penalties for 74 yards, including one for unnecessary roughness by Chris Chester that pushed the Falcons out of field goal range in the third quarter. On the next drive, the Falcons' defense got a stop on third down, but another unnecessary roughness gave Tampa Bay a new set of downs. Five plays later, the Bucs were in the end zone.

"That was a significant factor both offensively and defensively," Quinn said. "That part of our game, we're not equipped not to do well in that area. We've spent a good bit of time on that, so disappointed it led to have those fouls."

"We control those," Ryan said. "When you have procedural penalties, those are things we have to eliminate. And those are something we can control and have to do better."

Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans all lost Sunday. Tampa Bay was the only team in the NFC South to get a win. It is going to be tough for the Falcons to improve the overall record with a very difficult stretch of the schedule now in front of them.

Atlanta travels west to Oakland next week, and then they will travel to New Orleans. After that, they face Carolina at home followed by Denver in the mile-high city - not to mention back on the west coast in Seattle after that.

Brutal.

"It's a long season, a long haul. We're disappointed with how it went today, but we've got to get back to work and figure out how to get better next week," Ryan said.

"There's lots of things for us to work on and clean up before we get on the plane to Oakland," Quinn said. 

PHOTOS | Falcons vs. Bucs

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